Tensions rise at Mayoral hustings as candidates talk housing

The West Midlands Mayoral candidates delved into their housing, communities and regeneration policies at Coventry’s Albany Theatre this morning.

A hustings event hosted by the Centre for the New Midlands allowed all five candidates to share their priorities if elected as Mayor of the West Midlands. 

Siobhan Harper-Nunes (Green Party), Richard Parker (Labour Party), Andy Street CBE (Conservative Party), Sunny Virk (Lib Dems) and Elaine Williams (Reform UK) put affordable housing and retrofitting programmes high on the agenda as they prepare for the polls on May 2. 

Tensions rose between Street and Parker over the £250m unspent on housing by the WMCA. Parker called this a “chronic failure by the current regime” and said he would use this underspend to “pump priming housing associations with programmes” to deliver his ambition of “20,000 social homes by the end of the decade”.

Street said: “The notion that we’ve not spent our money is just for the birds. We’ve just gone to the market to say that £250m was still available after spending already a very large sum of money. 

“We’ve joined existing money with more funding that we just got from the government and this gives me confidence that we will continue to overachieve our targets and shows an extremely good example of sound financial management, achieving the targets and having more money available for new schemes”.

He highlighted the WMCA’s achievements in delivering 33% affordable housing and doubling housing completions and committed to delivering 2,000 social houses per year. 

Reform UK candidate Elaine Williams argued that adapting to a warming planet is more effective than trying to stop climate change and would scrap Net-Zero policies, whilst Green Party candidate Siobhan Harper-Nunes highlighted the 97% consensus among scientists on the climate emergency saying, “we are not about to have a conversation about whether it’s happening. It’s happening”. 


Key points from each candidate’s opening remarks:


Siobhan Harper-Nunes (Green Party candidate)

“I want to do so much more to support our communities and to ensure that no one is left behind.

“Child poverty in this region is on the rise. We have the worst housing stock in Europe. Food poverty is on the rise, local services are being cut and we are already seeing the effects of climate change with heat waves and increased flooding.

“We need action right now, I will create a mass programme to retrofit people’s homes to save money and emissions alongside an efficient transport system to decongest our roads”.


Richard Parker (Labour Party candidate)

“After 14 years of a Tory government and eight with a Tory mayor, this region is going backwards, not forwards. We’ve got the worst-performing economy in the country. We’ve got more young people out of work in the country, 200,000 people who live in substandard housing and 64,000 people on housing waiting lists and during this, there’s been £250m not spent by the Mayor. 

“I’m committed to delivering a minimum of 2,000 social homes and I hope to grow that number to 20,000 by the end of the decade. 

“I will reinvest the underspending and work with housing associations to pump prime your social housing delivery. I think we’ve got the money to deliver an additional 5,000 on top of what I’ve committed to and I will stamp down on rogue landlords to ensure that everyone in this region has a safe place to live.

“I will bring the bus network into public control, to connect our communities and reduce barriers for people working with living across this region. I have committed to creating 150,000 jobs helping young people into jobs with better skills and better pay”.


Andy Street CBE (Conservative Party candidate)

“The record over the last few years is a record of real change and progress. This is the only region in the country that is on target at its housing target number. It’s not a small number – 250,000 homes by 2031. That’s an average of about 15,500 a year – we’re achieving about 16,000 a year. 

“It’s come about through pro-growth policies with many of our local authorities and of course an incredible sense of collaboration across the whole region. A huge majority of these have been built on brownfield sites, bringing derelict communities and sites back to life, and protecting our environment. 

“The Combined Authority has played a critical role in this, because of the cash flow we or, I might even say, I negotiated with central government – £650m in housing deals.

“Richard made something of an allegation. Let’s be clear that this was never in the combined authorities’ remit at the beginning, theoretically, housing was in the remit of local authorities, some of those have failed to deliver and that is why we are now stepping in. 

“My commitment in the manifesto is 2,000 social homes per year and that is only made possible because of the funds that again I negotiated with the government in the devolution deal last year”. 


Sunny Virk (Lib Dems)

“I’m somebody that grew up in a single skin house so I know how cold they are. I always will take a material-first approach to any housing and regeneration and bring in new materials.

“I want to put external cladding on those homes and get funding in to heat these properties as the reality is social housing has been demonstrably attacked over the years by Conservative governments and it’s now reduced to record low numbers. 

“The Liberal Democrats’ national target for building social homes is 150,000. Our members will have a say on our housing strategy with how we’re set up. We are not backed by trade unions or gazillionaires. Our members properly inform our policies generally across all our party”. 


Elaine Williams (Reform UK candidate)

“In my area, I’ve been working with tenants who are unfortunately living in some conditions that are not good for them, and we need to ensure as part of housing and building houses, that people live in good conditions.

“We must acknowledge the existing inequalities and disparities that exist within our housing system, with many individuals still experiencing inadequate living conditions, overcrowding and homelessness. We need to work with stakeholders in improving this as investing in social housing is not just a matter of providing a roof over someone’s head – it is an investment in our collective future. 

“I will work with the housing associations to ensure more social housing is built that is cost-effective in the building process so that we can build as many homes as possible as quickly as possible using new construction technology”.

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